How to get the Most out of Your GRAM Visit
Have you taken your kids to the GRAM yet?
Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM), located downtown by Rosa Parks Circle, houses amazing works of art year-round for you and your family to enjoy.
With a stunningly beautiful interior, fascinating exhibits, kid-friendly details, numerous family programs for all ages, and exciting location in the heart of the city, the GRAM is the perfect place to introduce your little ones to the world of art!
But hold on–an art museum? You mean that very quiet, full-of-things-you-shouldn’t-touch place? If you’re like me, the thought of taking a two year old to an art museum sounds a bit like proposing to bring a bull into a china shop.
However, with a bit of preparation and some insider tips, your kids–under-5’s and all–can and will have a blast at the GRAM. In fact, it just might become your new go-to family outing in the city.
What to Know Before You Go to the GRAM
1 – Free Days!
One of the best ways GRAM is family-friendly is that admission is completely FREE on Tuesdays (10:00 AM-5:00 PM) and Thursday evenings (5:00 pm-9:00 pm)! They also historically offer free admission throughout all of Spring Break too. This means you can easily call it a day if your toddler starts having a meltdown mid-gallery, and you can also keep your trips as short and sweet as you’d like without feeling like you wasted money. I also love having both daytime and evening options–the daytime one is great for dates with my 2 year old, while the evening one works well for the whole family.
2 – Parking
There are plenty of convenient, affordable parking options within a short walk from the GRAM, including metered parking spaces and garages. (Click here for a printable map that shows the different parking structures nearby.) When we went during the day, it was no problem finding a metered space right next to the museum. When we went in the evening, we parked at the garage on 99 Monroe.
3 – Food & Drinks & Food Trucks
Because of the sensitive nature of the artwork, snacks and drinks (including water) are not permitted in the galleries.
When you and your kids are ready for a snack break, you can head to one of three areas: the spacious front lobby, where there are plenty of soft couches and low tables; outside on the large front patio facing Rosa Parks Circle (also a great area for kids to run around and burn off some energy); and in the hall in front of the Museum Store (turn left after the welcome desk), where you’ll find tables and chairs facing huge windows.
Want a special treat? Come to the museum on Thursdays in the summer and grab a bite from one of the food trucks parked outside at lunchtime.
If it’s not food truck day, there are still plenty of kid-friendly food options close by, that would make for a great pre- or post- museum outing with the kids. These include: Dog Pit, Subway, and Panera Bread, as well as Thai, Mexican, and Mediterranean restaurants.
Our kids really enjoyed finishing our trip to the museum with a frozen yogurt treat at Sweet Yo’s, located just across the street. Mad Cap Coffee is also right around the corner to the back, for parents who need a little pick-me-up!
4 – Strollers
The GRAM is stroller-friendly, with convenient, roomy elevators located throughout. I found this very useful for bringing along my 2 year old, who is at just the age where he wants to explore, but doesn’t understand why he can’t touch everything. Being able to strap him into the stroller when he got too rowdy was key!
You can also leave your stroller parked to the immediate left of the front entrance, near the coat racks and welcome desk.
A Floor-by-Floor Guide
GRAM has three floors of artwork, displayed in an airy, bright modern space.
I personally found GRAM to be wonderful for bringing along my kids because it wasn’t overwhelmingly huge in size–in fact, it is just the right size for a family to explore. The museum is totally walkable for little legs, all the bathrooms are within convenient proximity (and have step stools near the sinks!), there are ample benches and seats around for breaks, and every new corner has something unique and gaze-worthy displayed.
Read on to learn more about what’s offered on each floor!
First & Third Floors: GRAM Permanent Collection
On the first floor, our kids (ages 5 and 2) loved the playful Prints and Processes exhibit, which has since ended. Focusing on prints and organized by the processes that go into making them (such as woodcuts, lithographs, etchings, and screen-prints), this exhibit includes works by well-known artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, William Blake, Mary Cassatt, and Andy Warhol.
Upon entering the exhibit, my daughter spotted a rack of adorable wood-handled magnifying glasses–an invitation for visitors to get an up-close look at the intricate details of the pieces. Her little brother joined in on the fun too. As they ran from piece to piece eagerly examining the prints, I heard exclamations of, “Thumbprints!” “Swirlies!” and “Look, Mama!”
As we made our way to the elevator to go up to the third floor, my daughter was in awe of the large paintings on the walls. It was the first time she had ever been in front of paintings so huge. Since they were easily three times her height, she looked like she was a part of the scene, and I could tell she felt like it, too. She smiled at a funny looking bird, and pointing at an expansive painting of the sky, said, “That’s my favorite one.”
The third floor was recently renovated and houses the majority of GRAM’s permanent pieces. You’ll find everything from medieval to contemporary paintings, as well as some amazing furniture pieces, sculptures, and other mediums–all of which fascinated my kids. When we visited, there were also several small school groups of young kids learning about the different artwork; a testament to GRAM’s devotion to inspiring the next generation of artists and art-lovers!
Second Floor: Temporary Exhibits
One of the best things about GRAM is that it is constantly changing. Each season, GRAM brings in new and exciting exhibits and artwork to Grand Rapids. The second floor is mostly devoted to these fascinating exhibits. A schedule of their current and upcoming exhibits can be found here.
Want More GRAM?
The GRAM offers plenty of resources for aspiring artists of all ages:
- Discovery Packs are available at the Visitor Services desk during regular business hours. These self-guided packs can enhance your visit with young kids.
- Parents and teachers can find lesson plans based on current GRAM exhibits. These are fun ways to turn your visit into a little field trip even if your children aren’t in school yet!
- Drop-In Studio is offered every Saturday from 1:00 – 4:00 PM. This is a way to get those creative juices flowing by making your very own artwork–how cool!
- Could there be anything cooler than Summer Camp at the GRAM? I don’t think so! The GRAM offers options for ages 4-17. This would have been a dream come true when I was a kid!
Have you been to the Grand Rapids Art Museum? Any tips to share? Please leave a comment below!